I find interesting how much lies in the fate of the day’s mood when it comes to forming a new patient-physician relationship. I can have one of my typical days (and thankfully this is usually the case) in which my mood is great; I stroll into work, after having sipped an entire cup of coffee, maybe nibbled on a Moroccan cookie or two, and donned my white coat and stethoscope, greeting you with a smile.
Or it can be one of those other days. I’m talking days where I cannot function. I can’t explain why because there’s a plethora of reasons for anyone to feel grumpy. Each bad day is different in why it starts, when it starts, or how it plays out. But I can tell you how I feel, inside my coat, behind that specific day’s forced grin. Miserable.
Here’s the catch: It has nothing to do with you! That’s the terrible thing about it. Something in my day has set me off, and you’re the one who’s bearing the brunt of it. And I know it’s not what you expect. Because in a new relationship, the patient often expects his doctor at his all time best, much like in the movies, or on TV.
Take Gray’s Anatomy. They’re all handsome. Always having a great day. Always donning a smile. And, if not, well, they’re still pleasant to be around, laughing heartily at patient banter, bearing their pearly whites … not an ounce of their bad day shows on their face.
I want to be like the doctors on Gray’s Anatomy, but gosh darn it, I can’t! Not on this particular day, when something crabby set me off, and I’m down in the dumps. They said in medical school: Always be kind. Always smile. Exchange pleasantries. Approach the day’s topic with open-ended questions. Steer exchange into a meaningful discussion with appropriate endpoint diagnoses and a plan. Smiling.
But what about those days when I simply can’t? The day I have a migraine, or the day my throat burns so badly, but I cannot excuse myself from work? How about the time I fight with my spouse and storm out our front door, fight unresolved? When my child gets in trouble at school, and it weighs heavy on my mind? Or I simply eat bad food and it sits waiting at the edge of my colon, wreaking havoc on the outlook of the morning’s jam-packed schedule?
We often have just one impression to make before a judgment gets passed by our patient at a new visit. A single impression. It’s just how things go. But on those particular days, most of us simply can’t leave our baggage at the door. We try our hardest to pack light to work, maybe only bring in a carry-on. It’s a metaphor, of course, an emotional packing of sorts. But we’re human, and sometimes we simply need that extra bag. My hope is that our patients understand this, and give us second chances. We work hard, and we deserve it.
But don’t worry, by your next visit we’ll have emptied out our luggage, and you’ll have McDreamy back in no time … and with that smile!
Dana Corriel is an internal medicine physician who blogs at drcorriel.
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